Two of our four cats are very active and require positive outlets to expend their energy. Otherwise they turn their energy toward more destructive outlets of their choosing. Videos of cats running on exercise wheels occasionally crossed my path while scrolling through feline enrichment groups. I resisted my ADHD urges to impulsively buy a cat exercise wheel of my own. Would my cats even use it? What if it ended up being used solely as a giant wheel-shaped cat bed?
After much thought, I bought one. Two months later a giant box containing the Ferris Cat Exercise Wheel from ZiggyDoo arrived at my front door. Once I got it put together I got to work on the most important part - getting my cats acquainted with their new personal treadmill.
Lickable Cat Treats - my (not so) Secret Weapon
Through some trial and error I found a training regimen that worked for my cats. The key to my cats' success was the use of lickable cat treats. My cats love the Temptations Creamy Puree lickable treats, but the Churu lickable cat treats are also a popular choice among cat guardians. Canned food could also work as an alternative to lickable cat treats.
Let the Cat Exercise Wheel Training Begin
Now that you have your cat, your wheel, and your cat treats ready to go we're ready to get training!
We're going to start off slow. Put a dab of the treat on the track pad at the bottom of the wheel. Let your cat lick it off the track pad. Continue doing this to get them used to the wheel.
Once they get used to stepping onto the wheel and aren't worried that this giant new piece of furniture isn't going to attack them, put a dab of lickable cat treat higher up on the wheel. This is to get them used to taking a step on the wheel and feeling it move. Then put a dab of treat a little higher. And then a little higher.
When your cat seems confident with that step, it's time to make them work a little more for their reward. Hold the lickable cat treat in your hand and let your cat walk toward the treat. (If you are using canned food you can hold a spoon with a little bit of wet food on it.) Reward your cat for taking steps, even if it's just one step. Hold the treat slightly higher up on the wheel, again rewarding any effort.
Eventually you will get to a point where your cat won't require incentive (aka treats) to go on the cat exercise wheel. Luna now uses my finger on the wheel as a cue to run. She still enjoys a post-run pet, of course.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Simple, right? Well, there are some important things to keep in mind while training your cat to use an exercise wheel.
Slow and Steady
Be sure to take it at your cat's pace and don't rush them through the steps. They may only train for 30 seconds at a time, and that's fine. Your cat may be walking on the wheel treat-free by the end of the first day, or your cat may still be on step one at the end of the first week. Both are fine! Every cat is different.
Keep your Frustration in Check
As a cat guardian you know that cats do what they want to do when they want to do it. That also applies to training. If your working with your cat and they aren't cooperating and you start to get frustrated (or your cat is getting frustrated) take a break. Come back to it another time.
Let your Cat be in Control
Never turn the wheel with your hand! You will likely scare your cat and make them afraid of the wheel. And don't force your cat onto the wheel. Again, you'll likely scare them. Consent is important.
Only Good Things Allowed
What all of these important tips have in common is that they all promote a positive experience for your cat. You want your cat to have only positive associations with the cat exercise wheel.
Catching your Cat in the Act
You can get a mini camera set up facing the cat exercise wheel to catch clips of your cat using the wheel on their own! I hear Luna and Vega using the wheel here and there throughout the day, but our Blink Mini camera has showed me that Luna does a couple of cat exercise wheel sessions during the middle of the night.
Be patient and have fun with it!